The Centre for Legal History

The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Legal History provides a lively social and scholarly focus for the active research community at the University of Edinburgh and beyond. The University has a long tradition in the field, as the Chair of Civil Law was founded in 1710, with Civil Law taught continuously in the University since then.  Major interests pursued are Roman law, the learned laws in the Middle Ages, the history of law in Europe, the history of Scots law, and legal history in Louisiana. The interests of the Centre avoid a narrow focus on law as rules, and research is typically comparative and interdisciplinary, drawing on a wide range of sources.

The Centre organises a number of seminars and lecture programmes:

  • The Edinburgh Roman Law Group, founded by the late Professor Peter B. H. Birks when he held the Chair of Civil Law in Edinburgh, presents a regular and lively programme of speakers on Roman law.
  • The Alan Watson Seminar for Legal History, also initiated by Professor Birks, holds interdisciplinary seminars on medieval and early modern law in historical context.
  • A more recent initiative is the programme of Ancient Law in Context organised with Ancient History (in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology). This offers an interdisciplinary research network exploring law and economic and social development, bringing together specialists in ancient law and all aspects of ancient history – social, economic, and political.
  • The Henry Goudy Seminar meets once a month during term time to discuss works of classical literature.
  • Finally, the Centre holds the biennial (sometimes annual) Peter Chiene Lecture, bringing in a distinguished legal historian to speak. From time to time, the Centre also sponsors and organises specialist conferences and seminars, such as those on the medieval ius commune (from casus to regula) and humanism (ad fontes).
  • The Centre also holds relaxed social events through the year.

The Centre seeks to engage with the wider community, and does this largely through its blog, the Edinburgh Legal History Blog, which is written by John W. Cairns, Paul J. du Plessis, Guido Rossi, and other members of the Centre.

Barons and the Public Good in the Middle Ages (CFP)

University of East Anglia, Norwich, 3-4 April 2019

The traditional—and still popular—image of the ‘feudal’ political order of the Middle Ages is one of anarchic knights and overmighty barons pursuing selfish ends to the detriment of peace and justice.  Our teleological narrative thus explains the emergence of the modern state by the rise of centralised monarchies which abolished private conflict and introduced ‘commonweal’.  The medieval aristocracy, in this telling, is a negative force, a symptom of the collapse of the Roman imperium and an impediment to human flourishing.

However, recent work has questioned this characterisation of the baron’s role in government and the conception of public good, as well as the benevolence of centralised governments themselves.  Is the vilification of medieval lords not another case of history written by the victors?  ‘Noblesse oblige?’ intends to host a discussion and reevaluation of baronial government and aristocratic commitment to the common good in the Middle Ages.

The two-day conference will be held on the University of East Anglia campus in Norwich on the 3rd and 4th of April 2019, and will begin with a keynote address by Prof. Martin Aurell, director of the Centre d’Études Supérieures de Civilisation Médiévale, Université de Poitiers, and author of many books on aristocratic culture.

Papers of twenty minutes in length are welcome from both emerging and established scholars of baronial political culture, with special reference to questions surrounding their ‘public’ role.  Examples within this theme might include the moral nature of a baro, connexions between the aristocracy and religious reform, images of good governance in vernacular texts, noble opposition to tyranny, or aristocratic women as channels for justice and mercy.  We aim to incorporate a broad chronological range of papers, and especially invite explorations of change over time.  We also welcome points of comparison with aristocratic political culture from outside Europe or Christendom.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to the conference organisers at, along with the applicant’s name, affiliation (including independent scholar), and a 150-word biography.  We hope to have bursaries available to assist postgraduate, unwaged, and international participants.  The organisers eagerly look forward to receiving and reading all submissions. The deadline is October 31, 2018.


Contact Info:

Gregory Lippiatt and Richard Daines:

University of East Anglia

Norwich Research Park




Autumn Discourse 2018

The 2018  Autumn Discourse was delivered by the Hon. Sir Donnell Deeny at the Graduates Memorial Building, Trinity College Dublin on Friday 23 November.

The title of the Presidential Address was:

“The Trials of Arthur Donnelly: A Cause Célèbre of the 1870s”

The Rt Hon Lord Justice Deeny is a Privy Councillor, as well as the Pro Chancellor of Dublin University. His paper was followed by lively discussion. Members of the Society were then invited to a reception hosted by the Provost, marking thirty years since the foundation of the Society in 1988.


American Journal of Legal History

The latest edition of the American Journal of Legal History has now been published ( 58:3 (September 2018)).


  • Revisiting the Critiques of Those Who Upheld the Fugitive Slave Acts in the 1840s and ‘50s
    Peter Karsten
  • The Law Wars in Massachusetts, 1830-1860: How a Band of Upstart Radical Lawyers Defeated the Forces of Law and Order, and Struck a Blow for Freedom and Equality Under Law
    Alexandra D Lahav; R Kent Newmyer
  • “O Amherst, Where is Thy Shame?”: Republican Opposition to Federalist Policies in a New England Town    Susan J Siggelakis; Nicholas Mignanelli
  • Judicial Intervention in Early Corporate Governance Disputes: Vice-Chancellor Shadwell’s Lost Judgment in Mozley v Alston (1847)    Victoria Barnes

Book Reviews

  • David Barker, A History of Australian Legal Education    Mark Lunney
  • Dante Fedele, Naissance de la diplomatie moderne (XIIIe-XVIIe siècles). L’ambassadeur au croisement du droit, de l’éthique et de la politique
    Frederik Dhondt
  • Shaunnagh Dorsett, Juridical Encounters: Ma-ori and the Colonial Courts 1840 – 1852
    Katherine Sanders
  • Guido Rossi, Insurance in Elizabethan England. The London Code
    Dave De ruysscher
  • Mark Lunney, A History of Australian Tort Law 1901–1945: England’s Obedient Servant? Henry Kha

Call for Papers: Contested Kinship, Göttingen

International Conference, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, 14-16 March 2019. Dealdine for abstracts: 1 October 2018.

Keynote Speakers: Professor Margaret Homans (Yale University) and Professor Elisabeth Peel (Loughborough University)

Throughout Western history and legal traditions, kinship has been firmly rooted within the bounds of blood relations. This naturalisation of kinship continues in modern technologies: genetic research projects such as the Human Genome Project and technologies such as DNA kinship analysis extend the concept of blood relations from the unit of the family to that of ethnic groups. Legal regimes equally tend to the privileging of genetic relations, even today.

From a Cultural Studies perspective, this is highly problematic: it points towards an essentialist understanding of kinship, predetermined by birth; it naturalises subjecthood based on genetic bonds and genealogy; it attributes symbolic value to a concept of genetic sameness rather than diversity; and it supports the family as a key site of power and discipline.

Arguments for a non-essentialist redefinition of kinship have been put forward from a number of fields, including philosophy, gender studies, literary and cultural studies, and cultural anthropology. Judith Butler (2004) reads kinship as a problematic allegory for the origin of culture, arguing for an understanding of kinship beyond the normative restraints of biological relations. Similarly, Donna Haraway (1995) takes a dim view of the historically fatal consequences of blood-based kinship. However, the attraction of the genealogical origin is not limited to patriarchal narratives. Margaret Homans (2013) has looked at origin stories in adoption narratives and pointed to the paradoxical situation of feminism which on the one hand advocates non-essentialist, non-nuclear, non-heteronormative forms of kinship, and on the other hand acknowledges the power of the particular relation between birthmother and child. Damien Riggs and Elizabeth Peel (2016) finally have staked out the field of critical kinship studies and formulated its focus as “the need to move beyond a humanist account of kinship.”

This conference aims at following this premise, and seeks to further research in the field of critical kinship studies by bringing together different disciplinary perspectives into a cultural hermeneutic approach. It invites contributions from a variety of academic fields, including anthropology, history, law, literary studies and others.

Possible topics include:

new biopolitical and legal forms of kinship: processes of naturalisation
elective affinities, alliances, networks: kinship metaphors and kinship technologies
the naturalisation of kinship in narratives.
plural forms of kinship
the myth of blood relations
interdependencies of legal, social, medial and biotechnical discourses
genealogy as a literary and cultural pattern
otherkin and transhuman discourses and figures of thought

We invite abstracts of 300 words for 20-min. presentations before 1 October 2018 to

Organizers: Prof. Dr. Inge Kroppenberg, Civil Law and Legal History; Göttingen Centre for Gender Studies; Dr. Nikolaus Linder, Legal History; Göttingen Centre for Gender Studies; Prof. Dr. Barbara Schaff, English Literature and Cultural Studies; Göttingen Centre for Gender Studies

Postdoctoral Bursary 2018

The Irish Legal History Society is delighted to announce that the 2018 Postdoctoral Bursary is awarded to Dr Claudia Passarella from the University of Padua.

Dr. Passarella graduated in Law with honours in 2011 from the University of Padua with a thesis directed by Professor Chiara Maria Valsecchi. She received her Ph.D. in Legal Sciences (History of Medieval and Modern Law) from the University of Milan in 2015. Her doctoral dissertation focuses on the administration of criminal justice in modern Venice. From July 2015 to June 2016 Dr. Claudia Passarella carried out her research project thanks to the Postdoctoral Fellowship provided by the Fratelli Confalonieri Foundation (Milan). Since July 2016, she has been working as Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Padua. Her recent publications include:

  • Claudia Passarella, La pena di morte a Venezia in età moderna, «Historia et Ius», XI (2017), peer review journal, paper 14, pp. 1-27
  • Claudia Passarella, La tortura giudiziaria nella Repubblica di Venezia nei secoli XVI-XVI «Historia et Ius», IX (2016), peer review journal, paper 10, pp. 1-29
  • Claudia Passarella, Tre pratiche civili del foro veneziano: un primo confronto, «Studi veneziani», LXXII (2015), pp. 293-326
  • Claudia Passarella, Deciani Tiberio, in Clariores. Dizionario biografico dei docenti e degli studenti dell’Università di Padova, Piero del Negro (Ed.), Padova, University Press, 2015, pp. 126-127
  • Claudia Passarella, Guido da Suzzara, in Clariores. Dizionario biografico dei docenti e degli studenti dell’Università di Padova, Piero del Negro (Ed.), Padova, University Press, 2015, pag. 184\Claudia Passarella, I conflitti di attribuzione tra potere giudiziario e amministrazione, in Avvocati protagonisti e rinnovatori del primo diritto unitario, Stefano Borsacchi – Gian Savino Pene Vidari (Eds.), Bologna, Il Mulino, 2014, pp. 859-871
  • Claudia Passarella, Venetian Rectors and Jurisdiction in the Terraferma – I rettori veneziani e l’amministrazione della giustizia in Terraferma, in Pax Tibi Marce Venice: government, law, jurisprudence – Venezia: istituzioni, diritto, giurisprudenza, Silvia Gasparini (Ed.), online at , pp. 1-5
  • Claudia Passarella, Edoardo Deodati (1821 – 1896), in Avvocati che fecero l’Italia, Stefano Borsacchi – Gian Savino Pene Vidari (Eds.), Bologna, Il Mulino, 2011, pp. 322-328
  • Claudia Passarella, Leone Fortis (1814 – 1885), in Avvocati che fecero l’Italia, Stefano Borsacchi – Gian Savino Pene Vidari (Eds.), Bologna, Il Mulino, 2011, pp. 315-322

Dr. Passarella will visit Dublin in Autumn 2018. Her current research project focuses on lay participation in Italian criminal justice in the late modern age by adopting a comparative approach. Whilst in Ireland, she will be examining the Irish system of jury trials in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Details of the Irish Legal History Society’s bursary schemes can be found here.

Posthumous Pardon for Myles Joyce

In April 2018 the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins posthumously pardoned Maolra Seoighe (Myles Joyce) for his part in the infamous Maamtrasna Murders in 1882. Myles was one of three men hanged for the murders of members of the Joyce family in the West of Ireland in 1882.

The pardon was granted under Article 13.2 of the Irish Constitution on the advice of the Government. the Government’s advice was based on a report commissioned from Dr Niamh Howlin of the UCD Sutherland School of Law, who identified several problems with the way the trial had been conducted. This is the second posthumous pardon granted since the foundation of the state.

Read the President’s speech in full here.

The report of the trial is available here.

Travel Bursaries

Applications are being accepted for the Student and Postdoctoral travel bursaries. These are designed to fund research trips made by graduate students and academics pursuing research into any area of Irish legal history. Full details and application forms can be found here.

Law and Religion in Ireland 1530-1970

On Wednesday 6 June the UCD Legal History Research Group hosted a roundtable workshop at the Sutherland School of Law. Scholars from Ireland, the United Kingdom and Germany  examined the legal history of law and religion in Ireland, and the constitutional interactions between law and religion from the  sixteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.

This interdisciplinary workshop consisted of a series of short presentations and focused discussions on a number of themes, including:

  •     the enforcement and circumvention of the Penal Laws,
  •     the limitations of Catholic Emancipation,
  •     the legal organization of the Catholic Church in Ireland,
  •     the constitution and disestablishment of the Church of Ireland,
  •     Protestant Kirk sessions courts,
  •     religion and the Constitutions of 1922 and 1937.

The use of Irish law in medieval Norway

Professor Jørn Øyrehagen Sunde of the University of Bergen delivered a lecture  entitled

“The Beauty and the Beast? The use of Irish Legal Ideas and Non-Use of Irish Substantial Law in Norwegian Medieval Law.”

This lecture was organized with the support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in collaboration with the UCD Sutherland School of Law.

26 April 2018 at 5pm, room F103A, Newman Building, University College Dublin.